Paintings of Henri-Edmond Cross 2: Water and light

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Landscape with Stars (c 1905-08), watercolour over graphite on white wove paper, 24.4 x 32.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

In the first article of this series of two, I traced the career and paintings of Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910) up to the dawn of the twentieth century, by which time he was living in the small village of Saint-Clair, not far from his close friend Paul Signac, on the French Mediterranean coast. In 1903, he travelled with his wife to the city of Venice, where he painted extensively.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Night of the Festival of the Redeemer (Venice) (1903), watercolour over pencil on white wove paper, 14 x 24.3 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

One of Cross’s surviving watercolours from this first visit shows the Night of the Festival of the Redeemer (1903). This is the Festa del Redentore, held on the day of the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer, to give thanks for the delivery of the city from the plague of 1576. Among the fifty thousand Venetians who died during that epidemic was Titian. In modern times this has been celebrated with a large firework display, as shown in this painting.

Like Signac, Cross had used watercolour sketches to prepare for his oil paintings, which could take months of paint application in the studio. In the early twentieth century Cross too discovered the interest of others in his sketches.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Venice – The Giudecca (1903), watercolour, graphite, and charcoal on heavy, white wove paper, 17.1 x 24.8 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

This watercolour sketch of Venice – The Giudecca from 1903 is similar to those painted by Signac before he viewed Paul Cézanne’s late watercolours in 1908.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Regatta in Venice (1903-04), oil on canvas, 73.7 x 92.7 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

Cross’s Regatta in Venice from 1903-04 is a finished painting in oils, bearing a strong similarity to those painted at this time by Signac. In the middle distance there appears to be a race taking place.

Cross first achieved critical success with his solo show in the Galerie Druet in Paris in 1905, which featured a total of sixty of his works, divided evenly between pointillist oil paintings and watercolour sketches. This also brought substantial sales at last.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Clearing in Provence (study) (c 1906), oil on paper mounted on canvas, 56.5 x 44 cm, Israel Museum מוזיאון ישראל, Jerusalem, Israel. Wikimedia Commons.

Cross also made preparatory sketches in oils on paper, such as this Clearing in Provence from about 1906.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), The Glade (1906), oil on canvas, 162 x 130 cm, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne, Germany. Image by anagoria, via Wikimedia Commons.

That sketch formed the basis of the woodland setting Cross used in The Glade, painted in oils in 1906. Colour changes are prominent, and the chroma has been considerably enhanced.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), La Chaîne des Maures (1906-07), oil on canvas, 65.1 x 81.3 cm, Fondation Bemberg, Toulouse, France. Image by Didier Descouens, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross returned to the Midi and its coast, where he painted La Chaîne des Maures in 1906-07. Literally the ‘chain of the Moors’, this is part of the Massif des Maures, and meets the sea near Hyères, forming a landmark at Le Levandou. In the foreground is a man ploughing with a single white horse.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Sleeping Nude in a Clearing (1907), oil on paper mounted on canvas, 27.2 x 34.2 cm, Musée de Grenoble, Grenoble, France. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1907, Cross painted this enigmatic figure of a Sleeping Nude in a Clearing. This is an oil sketch, made on paper, and doesn’t seem to be associated with a finished oil painting.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Landscape with Stars (c 1905-08), watercolour over graphite on white wove paper, 24.4 x 32.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

His watercolour Landscape with Stars from about 1905-08 appears to have been painted as a primary work rather than a preparatory study. It also suggests influence from Vincent van Gogh’s now-famous nocturne Starry Night over the Rhône (1888).

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), The Flowered Terrace (1900/1910), oil on panel, 23.9 x 33.2 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX. Wikimedia Commons.

The Flowered Terrace is an oil sketch from the period 1900/1910, with coarse brushstrokes of paint applied briskly. They appear to have been laid onto a light ochre ground.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Garden of the Painter at Saint Clair (1908), watercolour over graphite, 17.1 x 24.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1908, Cross sketched this view of the Garden of the Painter at Saint-Clair, with its increasing areas of reserved space. That was the same year that Signac first saw the late watercolours of Cézanne, which influenced his own.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Cypresses at Cagnes (1908), oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

The small town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, to which Pierre-Auguste Renoir had recently moved, is a couple of hours travel north-east along the coast from the artist’s home in Saint-Clair towards Nice. Cross’s view of Cypresses at Cagnes (1908) shows the dazzling vegetation there.

Henri-Edmond Cross (1856–1910), Cap Nègre (1909), charcoal and watercolour with charcoal border on cream laid paper, 25.9 x 42 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Cap Nègre from 1909 is one of Cross’s last watercolours, and perhaps shows the greatest tendency towards reserved space and bold flares of colour, as seen in the late watercolours of Cézanne. This point is at Le Lavandou.

Cross was increasingly troubled by ill-health during the twentieth century. His rheumatism grew worse, and minor problems with his eyesight became more intrusive. In 1909, he was diagnosed with and treated for cancer in Paris. The following year he died at his home in Saint-Clair, where Signac and his other friends cared for him during the final months. He was almost fifty-four.